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Seeing is Smelling: Pictures improve product evaluations by evoking olfactory imagery

Sharma, V. & Estes, Z. ORCID: 0000-0003-4350-3524 (2024). Seeing is Smelling: Pictures improve product evaluations by evoking olfactory imagery. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 41(2), pp. 282-307. doi: 10.1016/j.ijresmar.2024.02.001


Scents can improve product evaluations, but incorporating scents in advertising and packaging is relatively inefficient and oftentimes hard to implement (e.g., online). We therefore present a theoretical framework that explains how pictures on packages and in advertisements can evoke imagined scents (olfactory imagery), thereby improving evaluations and increasing choice shares, without delivering any actual scent. Seven main studies (and four supplemental studies) demonstrate this visual-olfactory effect on product evaluations and choices, and reveal three conditions that accentuate, eliminate, and reverse this effect. First, the effect of olfactory imagery on product evaluation is greater among consumers with a stronger need for smell. Second, although many products are marketed with scented versions, we show that pictures only improve evaluations of products for which scent is a relevant or typical attribute. Moreover, although deodorizing products frequently utilize pictures of malodorous objects, we show that such pictures actually harm evaluations. By revealing that pictures can evoke imagined scents, which affect product evaluations even without an actual scent, this research demonstrates that scent has far more pervasive and powerful marketing potential than previously thought.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2024. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
Publisher Keywords: imagery, olfaction, scent, sensory marketing, smell, olfactory imagery
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Q Science > QD Chemistry
Q Science > QM Human anatomy
Departments: Bayes Business School
Bayes Business School > Management
SWORD Depositor:
[thumbnail of Sharma & Estes PREPRINT.pdf] Text - Accepted Version
This document is not freely accessible until 10 August 2025 due to copyright restrictions.
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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